Can you tell a Dromedary from a Bactrian? It's really quite simple -- the first has one hump and the second has two. Riding one across the desert in some of the world's most exotic locations may be a slightly more difficult challenge, but certainly a memorable one. Climb aboard the ship of the desert for a unique adventure.
Where better to start our global camel-riding journey than amid the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert? Camel Trekking (tel. 212/686 52285; www.cameltrekking.com) offers a three-day tour to Merzouga and the Todra Gorge from Marrakech priced at $182 per person. The trip includes transfer transportation by four-wheel drive vehicle, fuel, one night half-board at a hotel, a night in the desert, your camel, a guide, bottled water, nomad tent with mattress and blanket, dinner and breakfast and a night drum party. On the first day, travel over 200 miles on camel back from Marrakech to the Dades Gorge, over the Tizi n'Tichka Pass, visiting Berber villages and touring the World Heritage Site of Ait Benhaddou, passing through Ouarzazate and El Kelaa M'gouna before reaching the Dades Valley (the valley of a thousand Kasbahs) to spend the night at a hotel and enjoy a traditional Moroccan dinner. The second day covers nearly 70 miles to Merzouga visiting the Todra Gorge, Berber villages and the beautiful Erg Chebbi dune. Spend the night camping in a bivouac, have dinner and sleep in traditional Nomad camel hair tents. On the final day, Omar, the trek guide, takes the group to his parents' house for breakfast before returning to Ouarzazate and back over the high Atlas Mountains to Marrakech -- a distance of almost 300 miles. There are three departures per week from October 2007 to January 2008.
Although not indigenous to Australia, Afghan camels were first brought down to the Southern continent in the mid-19th century and played a crucial role in the exploration and development of inland Australia (read about Aussie camel racing on Frommers.com). They thrived in the desert conditions, in fact Australia is now home to the largest wild camel population in the world -- some 700,000 of them now roam the vast expanse that is Australia's desert center and there are more than a dozen camel tour operators. Unfortunately the country is still in the midst of a massive drought, so some of the longer camel expeditions (12 to 28 days) in the Northern Territory, like those run by Outback Camel Company (www.cameltreks.com.au), may not be able to run in 2008, but other companies are still offering shorter treks.
Explore the Outback Camel Safaris (tel. +61/8-8672-3968; www.austcamel.com.au/explore.htm) is based in the Central Australian desert near William Creek on the Oodnadatta Track (Lake Eyre, South Australia), and operates from April to October each year. The treks are self-contained, meaning that the camels carry everything including water, food, sleeping equipment and most importantly, travelers, so a support vehicle is not required. The tour travels into pristine Australian desert landscapes not accessible by roads. Participants are provided with comfortable single seat trek-saddles, all meals are included and the trek is considered safe for children of all ages. Tours are led by local experts who offer professional ecological and cultural interpretation, and in case you are nervous about being in such remote wilderness, satellite phones are always taken for communication purposes. Treks generally last four or five days and are priced at $1,207 and $1,351. Students and senior citizens pay a reduced rate of $1,198 and $1,370 respectively or if you book a family of four people, the rate is $946 or $1,087 per person. Getting to Explore the Outback is an experience in itself and driving from Adelaide or Alice Springs is one option or they can arrange transportation from the opal mining town of Coober Pedy (between Alice Springs and Adelaide) for an additional $131 per head (based on an exchange rate of $AUS1 = $US0.84).
For the truly adventurous comes an opportunity to explore the Gobi Desert atop a two humped Bactrian camel. The Gobi is famous for its unusual geological formations, dinosaur fossils, and unique flora and fauna. Selena Travel (tel. +976/11-333-499; www.selenatravel.com), a leading tour operator in Mongolia, offers eight day camel treks that run between May and September. 2007 prices were $955 per person based on six participants, $1,173 for three to five people and $1,323 if there are only two people. Children under 11 years of age travel for free as part of a family group (2008 prices have yet to be posted). These prices include accommodation in hotels and at eco-camps; a round-trip flight from Ulaanbaatar to the Gobi plus airport taxes; guiding and interpreting services; a car with driver and gas; all meals; sightseeing and cultural show admissions; national parks entrance fees; camel riding; and a camel keeper. Visit the flaming red cliffs of Bayanzag; Hermen Tsav, Zulganai, Tugrugiin Shiree and Naran Daats -- known for their fossilized dinosaur remains; the Khongoriin Els sand dunes that run along the northern side of Sevrei and Zuulun mountain ranges; the Khongoriin gol stream oasis; Yoliin Am (Vulture's Gorge) in the Zuun Saikhan Mountain range; and be hosted by local herding families.
Nomad Travel (tel. +91/22-2202-1503; www.nomad-travels.com/camel.htm) offers a selection of camel-based trips including their Camel Safari in the Shekhawati Area (this region is known for its castles and traditional painted havelis - Rajasthani houses). The four-day trek begins in Jaipur, Rajasthan and includes one-night accommodation in Nawalgarh at the Roop Niwas Palace Hotel, a car/bus tour of Nawalgarh and Dundlod, and a two-night desert camping safari on camels with accommodation in tented camps. The camel journey will give you five hours of camel riding each day, fresh meals prepared by the accompanying cook, an expert guide and camel driver and an opportunity for participants to visit various oases and interact with local communities. The trip is priced at $255 per person for a minimum of two people.
Jaisalmer is a frontier town on the edge of the Thar desert known for its 840-year-old sandstone fort that rises out of the desert sands like a mirage. An oasis on an ancient trading route, over 5000 people still live and work within the fort's massive walls. The Jaisalmer Camel Safari is a two-day camel trek from Jaisalmer into the surrounding the desert, visiting tiny villages and historical landmarks like Badabagh (a lake and home to royal cenotaphs), Ramkunda, Roopsi and Lodurva (ancient Jain temples), Amar Sagar (lake and temples) and the villages of Kala and Chundi. The trip is priced at $145 per person based on a minimum of two persons and includes personal camels, a guide, all meals, bottled mineral water and camping requirements. Jaisalmer is approximately 350 miles from Jaipur or 178 miles from Jodhpur.
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